New Bearings in Esthetics and Art Criticism

A Study in Semantics and Evaluation

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III. RELATIVISM
F OR various reasons, then, both objectivism and subjectivism are invalid. Merely indeed on the a priori evidence that, roughly, 40 per cent of all philosophers and critics subscribe to one of these theories and another 40 per cent to the other, one might suppose that both camps are mistaken (somewhat as the incompatibility of the dogma of original sin and the doctrine of the goodness and perfectibility of man suggests the incorrectness of both alternatives and points toward another interpretation of human nature). A third possibility, which is by no means merely a via media between the two extremes previously discussed, but an original position of a different kind, is "relativism."
In broadest view, this theory avoids the mythical absolute values of the objectivist and the irresponsible preferences of the subjectivist through new interpretations of both the valuable object and the valuing subject and by an emphasis upon the interrelation between them in a total situation. One can separately describe two different though connected aspects of relativism.
First, according to the relatively objective side of its thesis, value is defined as a relational property of an object in the same way that nourishing is a relational, not a real property of food; in other terms, the work of art has potential value which becomes actual only in a transaction with a sensitivity. One may refer, as we all do, to the value of an object, but the intended meaning should be that the value quality is partly dependent upon an experiencing subject. This interpretation of value, which is analogous to the definition of relatively objective properties given in note 41 is somewhat differently explained in the following passage: